- This is part 3 of the paper GRAHAM LEUNG was to have delivered at the annual Fiji Institute of Accountants Congress convention at the Sheraton Fiji in Nadi on Friday.
Possible Way Forward:
The immediate need is to restore legitimacy and confidence. As a start, the 1997 Constitution must be restored.
Commodore Bainimarama, let our people go. Put down your guns and let us talk. A nation that lives under the cruel tyranny of dictatorship loses its vitality and zest for life.
Legitimacy in the sense of a government broadly acceptable to the people of this country. One that is also able to attract international recognition as well. This might be a caretaker government comprising the political parties, civil society and the military.
I know any suggestion of military involvement is anathema to many. I have my own reservations. But for as long as we have a standing army of significance, they will not disappear overnight. The task of such a government would be to take the country to elections under a new electoral system within agreed time frames. September 2014 is unacceptable. It is too far off. By then the damage to the country would be beyond repair.
What incentives would there be for the military to accept this arrangement.
First, they would require assurances of immunity. This would have to be negotiated according to broad principles, with exceptions. Already, we have allowed a culture of impunity to take root and it must be ended. How it is to be achieved must be left for another day.
Second, financial incentives could be provided with support from abroad to reduce the size of the military.
Third, peacekeeping assignments might be widened as part of our return to good standing in the global community.
Fourth, a refocusing of the military’s role from security to national and community development.
Given the commitment and resources that went into the making of the 1997 Constitution, it would make sense to restore it. Let us remember it was the product of widespread consultation with the people and that it was adopted unanimously by both Houses of Parliament. The only aspect that appears to attract some criticism is the electoral system. So let the political parties and civil society discuss what system would best suit Fiji.
My own thinking is that some form of proportional representation would be best for the country. Because it protects minor parties and ensures that the larger parties do not secure exaggerated majorities.
The military has said it favours a non-racial electoral system. That is possibly not the challenge it once was. Demographics have softened the stance of Fijian political parties in this regard which is why proportional representation makes sense for ethnic minorities in this country.
In the period before elections, there would need to be agreement on the basic issues: the electoral system and government of national unity after the elections. This government would have the responsibility of implementing the reforms agreed to as well as the introduction of a new electoral system.
A political dialogue could determine whether the military might have a role to play in this process. Which brings me to the contentious part : the elections would have to be held under the present electoral system. Otherwise they would not be legal.
It is important to remember that changing the electoral system will not necessarily change ethnic politics. Cultural identity is a strong motivating factor and communities and individuals will still seek ways to express these sentiments.
I raise this merely to address the belief that somehow altering our electoral system will remove ethnic issues from people’s consciousness. It won’t.
As part of this comprehensive political system, consideration might be given to the military being allocated seats in the government of national unity by appointment to the Senate. This would be one way of ensuring that the electoral and other reforms agreed to are effected. But I recognize that the suggestion is fraught with dangers.
Ignoring the military, or seeking to emasculate them overnight is unrealistic. It is unlikely to happen. It will be a slow, gradual process. A portion of those in public service positions may be redeployed to the military. For the rest, demobilization from the military and complete integration in the public service might be the only possible alternative.
Whatever the solutions, the militarisation of the public service has to stop. It blurs the distinction between the military and civil aspects of government. It undermines the ethos of the public service because the chain of command mentality of the military is ill-suited to civilian decision making. It compromises the criteria for the public service when military officers are appointed ahead of career public servants. The end result is a demoralised and dysfunctional public service.
We proceed to elections on the basis of the electoral system under the 1997 Constitution. If we are to move away from the destructive cycles of the past, we must build on what we have.
So let us work within the Constitution to change it with the support of all concerned parties. But let us do so properly and legally following the right procedures. Just as there are no short cuts in life to success, there are no short cuts to making the perfect society.
Going forward, there is a need for genuine tripartite dialogue and co-operation between the government, the private sector, the unions and for the foreseeable future, the military. National objectives, profit and the welfare of workers can be matched.
There will always be tensions – that is the nature of the dynamic and the relationship. But the rebuilding process must begin with some common values of what is right and wrong. What has happened in the past has occurred precisely because sufficient of us have looked the other way and given aid and support to those who would overthrow the established legal order on one pretext or the other.
Our political upheavals have come at great cost in terms of social economic, political and psychological loss. We have had five coups. We recover each time. But each time the recovery is longer and the human spirit weakened further.
I look back and I see a repetition of mistakes, of unexploited potential together with misguided and misconceived opportunism that has returned to haunt us. Our commitment to our narrow partisan interests rather than principle is a failing we need to reflect on deeply.
It is only invoked when convenient to camouflage another agenda. An entire generation has grown up with the example of the last two decades. It is right to take what is not yours. To use force. To break the law when it suits you. That right is might; that bad behaviour will be rewarded and good behaviour will go unrecognized. No one should be surprised or shocked at the kind of society we have become. We have allowed it to happen.
We must act together now to put Fiji back on track. Because as the country drifts we become more isolated and the economy collapses. The lack of accountability nationally promotes arbitrariness and mediocrity in all spheres of life. There is a widespread loss of hope and hopelessness. The level of frustration and resentment grows by the day. The spirit of Fiji is broken. It is a time of extraordinary pain. The human impulse to create, to enjoy and to live has been dampened.
Double standards are practiced resulting in further loss of morale and confidence. That leads to abuse whether of office, of rights, of the public trust. We see it already before our eyes. The exceptions to retirement ages for the Commissioner of Police and the Commander of the RFMF, the release of the killers of Sakiusa Rabaka on CSO, the censorship of the media that prompts the government spokesperson to say the quality of reportage has improved, the use of FICAC to target certain people and not others.
The list is endless. It will grow longer if this situation is allowed to continue.
So the rebuilding that needs to be done is quite clear. Restoration of the Constitution, agreement on elections and the surrounding issues, possible involvement by the Military in the process, agreement on the broad changes including the electoral system, and a government of national unity to implement reform. It will require goodwill and commitment to doing what is right for Fiji and all its people. We have no choice. Time is running out for Fiji and for all of us who call this place home.
More broadly we the people have to face up to our own responsibilities. We cannot shirk them. We must tell our leaders to stop the bickering and the rancour. We are weary of division and polemic. Our spirit is wounded and our souls yearn for real leaders of humility and integrity who will take us to the promised land.
We must be careful of false prophets in our midst. Leaders who divide and conquer must be rejected. We do not need them. They pretend to pray at the altar of high principle but instead feed from the trough of self interest and hypocrisy. If we accept and acquiesce in what is happening around us, how then can we complain about the path the country is following?
So I am suggesting that those of us who say that they truly love this nation, must be prepared to put their money where their mouth is. To stand up and be counted.
If I have succeeded in leaving you in a somber and reflective mood, my time here today would not have been wasted.
Hope in Fiji is all but dead. Hope does not happen by chance. It must be created. All of you, by virtue of your training and education, are well placed to play a big part in restoring hope to this country. You can choose to create hope or you can continue to stifle it.
When you leave this salubrious and indulgent gathering, the problems and challenges that you left behind will once again confront you. Poverty, high unemployment, political uncertainty and an economy in freefall. They will not disappear.
Will you say that it is for others to fix and pretend they are not yours to address as well? Will you remain an idle bystander while others destroy all that our respected leaders who led us to independence have put together? Will you avoid confronting the challenges facing Fiji today and upon which our very survival as a nation depends? Or will you answer the call to national service? – fiji uncensored